Crucible Diary 2012: Day Seven

Day seven at the Crucible and there is only one story as Scottish legends John Higgins and Stephen Hendry collide for the first time in the World Championship…

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Waking up early in the hotel, after another late night of festivities at the Graduate, I had considered something of a lie-in, but as I double checked the schedule for the day and noted that the John Higgins-Stephen Hendry match was due to start at 10am, decided to afford myself no such luxury.

Arriving at the venue, I set up the laptop and headed into the arena to savour the opening eight frames between the two. With the same seat as I had for Hendry’s opening day 147 (see above), I was all set for another excellent session between the two and for a change in my Crucible diary, have decided on a frame-by-frame blog of the action:

Frame 1: The early exchanges were unsurprisingly tense, reds finding their way close to the left side-cushion early on as both missed a few pots. The difference however was in the safety department as John looked to be the stronger, twice forcing Stephen into all-or-nothing shots, both of which he missed, leaving Higgins in amongst the balls for 1-0.

Frame 2: Exactly as he did from his first break-off against Stuart Bingham on Saturday, Stephen Hendry caught the blue and immediately let Higgins in to score with a break of 52, before the defending champion won the subsequent safety battle to double his advantage at 2-0.

Frame 3: In the third frame it was John’s turn to hit a poor break-off, leaving a red over the right-centre and a first scoring chance to his opponent. Though Hendry was to miss a red to the yellow pocket following an unfortunate split on 20, he was soon back in and got his first frame on the board with a break of 81. The only surprise was that he could not make a century, a missed green causing obvious frustration to a player who still loves to add to his already impressive century count.

Frame 4: Now fully in the groove, Hendry was in again and looking as lethal in the balls as he did against Stuart Bingham on Saturday, only for a surprising miss on 69 to allow Higgins back to the table with 75 still remaining. As a visibly frustrated Hendry sat and watching, clearly expecting Higgins to dish as he generally does, he was to be given a reprieve as John failed with an attempted double on the penultimate red. Following this Hendry laid a good snooker behind the blue and as Higgins missed and left a free ball, made no mistake to level at 2-2 at the interval and in the process avoided what could have been a real turning point, even this early in the match.

Frame 5: Back after the break it was Hendry who earned the first chance with a great long red, only to miss a black off the spot a few shots later to let Higgins in to clear with a brilliant break of 124. At the time it occurred to me that those are the sort of misses that Hendry was throwing in against Yu Delu in qualifying every other frame, but while Yu was unable to punish them in one visit, Higgins showed exactly what the difference is at the very highest level.

Frame 6: Not for the first time in the session, Hendry was to experience a bad run of the ball and could only sigh as the cue ball flicked the blue ball and travelled into the green pocket to give Higgins a chance. As it happened however, John was unable to get on a colour following his opening red and Hendry soon got back in to draw level again with a break of 93, again showing clear frustratio as he missed the final red when in with a chance of a century break.

Frame 7: Now fully in his stride, Hendry got in immediately and this time was able to complete that elusive century break with a well-crafted 124 to the final pink.

Frame 8: The most tactical frame following the interval, this time it was John’s turn to experience an awful run of the ball, particularly following a great recovery pot which left him snookered on the pink by another red. Eventually it was to prove costly as Hendry wrapped up a high-quality session with a break of 92, again narrowly falling short of a ton with a missed pink to the right-centre. Despite his performance, he was still chuntering away and looking at the pink as he left the arena!

Overall then it was a good session and an important one for Hendry to come out of with a lead as had he slipped behind early on, I could have seen Higgins taking control of the match and winning quite comfortably. As it is however, it remains well-poised and it will be interesting to see whether Hendry can maintain his scoring form through the remainder of the two sessions.

I’m still not sure who will win, Higgins I think does have the advantage in the scrappy frames and remains well in contention to come back when they resume tomorrow. In a way, it is very much classic Hendry as he looks devastating in the balls, but is more vulnerable when the balls go awkward. Is it 1992 again?

Meanwhile over on table two, Neil Robertson has extended his lead to 10-6, winning four of the last five frames following a spirited comeback from Gilbert early in the session. I did not see any of the action, but on the scoreline alone I would be surprised to see Neil falter when they conclude their match at 7pm this evening.

While we have a gap between sessions, a word for local photographer Andy Chubb who has been at the venue this week and taking some tremendous photos which you can view here.

As the afternoon session begins, World Snooker have also staged a press conference to announce the latest world ranking event to be organised in China, the International Championship which will begin this October. For all of the details on that particular announcement, please click here.

On the baize, Stephen Maguire has managed to stamp his authority on his last 16 match with Joe Perry, taking five of the day’s six frames so far to extend his lead to 10-4 at the time of writing. While on paper their statistics are relatively even, Stephen has scored the heavier of the two, while Joe has missed balls at important times, notably a pink to right-centre a couple of frames ago when on a break of 52, which allowed Maguire to steal with 80 of his own.

Over on table two, Ryan Day has started well against Cao Yupeng, moving 3-0 ahead early on, though Cao has dug in well to close to 2-4 after the interval.

Attention however is already returning to the resumption of the match between John Higgins and Stephen Hendry later this evening, as well as the climax of the contest between Neil Robertson and David Gilbert.

Evening Session

Following a relatively brisk afternoon session and a trip to a local Italian restaurant, I returned to the Crucible with fellow blogger Snookerbacker and made sure of a place on the media bench for the resumption of the clash between Stephen Hendry and John Higgins, as the defending champion looked to get himself back into the match.

Frame 9: After the free-flowing action of the morning session, the opener this evening would prove to be an error-strewn affair from both players, misses from both ensuring that it would come down to the colours when it looked like Higgins would snatch it. Unfortunately for him however, following his pot on the blue he left himself dead straight on the pink as was evident from the look on his face and while he potted it along the cushion, he then faltered with a cut-back black which a grateful Hendry knocked in for 6-3.

Frame 10: The pattern continued in the next as both missed balls, but eventually it was Hendry who would extend his lead further with a break of 51.

Frame 11: Another frame to come down to the colours, it looked as though Hendry would take it as he screwed back from the brown to develop the blue, only for it to run just too far for him to be able to pot it to the right-centre. Despite a clever shot from Hendry to snooker Higgins with the angle of the right-centre pocket, John soon gained the upper hand in the safety exchange and following a double on the pink into the same pocket, added the black to close to 7-4.

Frame 12: While the previous frame had threatened to be a turning point, John failed to improve in the next and Hendry wasted little time in winning it in two scoring visits to secure an 8-4 lead at the mid-session interval.

Frame 13: Not for the first time in the session, the next frame came down to the colours and it was Higgins who looked like taking it. Having not come nicely on the green, Higgins chose to lay a snooker and as Hendry escaped, John then chose to take it on to the right-centre, missing and allowing Stephen in to clear to the pink for 9-4.

Frame 14: By this stage John looked to be completely ‘gone’ so to speak and Hendry opened with a well-taken 43, using the blue with both pink and black tied up, before the break ended with an in-off to right-centre. While under normal circumstances John would have fancied himself to produce a trademark clearance where the balls were, another missed red to right-centre gave Hendry yet another let-off.

Frame 15: Another frame, another let-off for Hendry as having miscued on what was a frame ball yellow, Higgins again could not capitalise, a missed pink from memory proving his last shot in the frame.

Frame 16: First chance in the final frame of the session fell to Higgins but as he failed to land on the black following his opening red, he then missed with a rather desperate attempt on the yellow, allowing Hendry to polish off the evening with a well-taken 83, the highest break of the session.

All in all then, a frankly bizarre session to have witnessed first-hand, in which I had kept expecting Higgins to fire, only for it not to happen as Hendry moved to within just one frame of his 19th Crucible quarter-final, a ridiculous statistic when one considers that only eight players have played here that often at all.

Make no mistake though, Hendry was far from at the level that he displayed this morning, or during his opening day victory against Stuart Bingham, but Higgins was simply atrocious, playing the worst snooker that I have ever seen from him live.

Meanwhile, over on table two Neil Robertson became the first man through to the quarter-finals with a 13-9 victory against David Gilbert, though as he was keen to stress during his post-match press conference (quotes to follow tomorrow), David really did himself a lot of credit today with a battling performance from 10-5 down.

Still, it is Neil who marches on and who now awaits the winner of the clash between Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams, which gets underway tomorrow…